Sunday, August 11, 2013

Teaching and Dragons

Confession time here, which will no doubt shock no one.  I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in Middle/High School and College.  At the very least, my nerd/geek cred should be boosted a lot by this fact.

To be honest, I was not only a player, but in my circle of nerds, I was generally the Dungeon Master, i.e., the nerd who runs the games.  For those of you uninitiated, the job of the Dungeon Master was to run the adventures, setting up scenarios for everyone else (the player characters).  As a DM, you controlled all of the NPCs (non-player characters), monsters, made the maps/dungeons, etc.  You were the director of the movie, as well as all of the bit parts, as well as possibly the antagonist.

As I prep for the new year I was drawing some serious parallels between DMing and being a teacher, particularly with regards to some methodology behind both things.

Monty Haul DMs were those that essentially just kept everyone happy by throwing tons of loot their way.  Everything was sort of set up to get to the treasure as quickly as possible.  And those treasure piles were typically full of massive amounts of gold and magic items.  Characters leveled quickly and were super powerful pretty fast.  The problem is that when you get that powerful that quick, it gets boring really quickly.
To relate this to teaching, think of the teacher who wants nothing more than to make students happy all the time.  Candy is doled out, assignments are easy as crud, everyone makes an A as long as they go along with the program.  Anyone who has been teaching for a few years knows a teacher or two like this.  The kids love them, but it is at the least highly questionable if any actual learning is going on in that room.

Another type of DM can be best described as an oppositional DM. See this Penny Arcade strip for details (note, there is some nsfw and offensive stuff on PA, though not this strip)This DM believes that their role in the game is actually oppose the players, to make life as miserable for them as possible.  No treasure is doled out, monsters are powerful and ubiquitous, every trip into town results in characters being driven out and hunted. It isn't boring, but it is painful as all get out.  After a while, the players wonder why they show up week after week to be humiliated and depressed.

Some of you may not see the parallels to education, but I see an awful lot of teachers who relish the oppositional roles.  They love to yell, their tests are brutal, HW loads are true unrelenting loads.  Generally this is done under the guise of "it's for their own good" or "I have to prepare them for college".  Students tend to respond in one of two ways.  The first is to suffer through it because they have to get the grade.  The second is to tune out and fail.

I'll be honest here and say that I've probably been a bit of both at times in the past (and possibly present).  But what I always shot for as a DM was sustainable enjoyment in my players.  I wasn't against them, we were playing D&D together.  And while I had the module and all the books in my hands (teachers, read the curriculum and the answers), without them, I was just a sad teenager reading rulebooks for no reason.  The game needed to be interesting and challenging or there was no point in us getting together to play.  But at the same time, the rewards needed to be obvious and frequent enough to keep them (and me) going.

Ultimately, in a good campaign, it wasn't about the treasure or rewards though, it was about the journey, the time we spent together, the destinations were many and rarely final.

I am not really a hippie teacher who believes it is all about the journey, that students don't actually have to learn the material in my class.  I know that there are EOCs to take and I think that most of my students would not really describe my class as a piece of cake.

What I do believe though is an analogous thing though is that I don't see my students as my enemies.  We often have these battle lines, teachers vs students, teachers vs admins, admins vs students.  I am not the Final Boss, a fire breathing dragon, and if they make it through the tricks and traps they get to slay me (or my material).  I prefer to think of myself as Gandalf (who wouldn't), there when most needed, advising, sometimes blowing stuff up in some cools ways.  But ultimately, I'm not the hero of the story...

And contrary to what some think, I'm not Sauron either...

1 comment:

  1. Maybe Boromir? Ultimately good, but sometimes the bad guy?

    Also: If the source material is Call of Cthulhu, who does that make you?